Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sand Box Stalling

The unspoken assumption (when it isn't explicit) seems to be that a DM will design at least a continent, decide on geography and terrain types, maybe even political entities, trade routes and epic histories.

Yeah, that's not how I started this campaign.  First it's a ton of work.  But more importantly, it makes a bunch of decisions before play that shuts off the possibility of shaping the campaign as we go, as I receive input from players, etc.  It limits the ability to adapt and react.  So here is quick and dirty way to put that off till later.

You have a mysterious pylon appear near civilization.  In it is a control room with little dioramas of various places that appear to be ruins.  Working various levers/switches allows for travel to these locations.  There is either a similar pylon at the location, or a simple mechanism for returning directly (break a crystal, chime a gong). (yep, like video game fast travel-- though you might decide later that some of these locations are actually in different times or planes [they didn't fit in your conception of this campaign world]).

Now you can have 2-10 locations that are whatever seems coolest to you when you start, or, whatever module you want to use, and you don't have to worry about where they're located in relation to each other or how they fit into your world's history.  If players decide to come back from a location the old-fashioned way, by land/sea travel, you'll build the world as they go.  Otherwise, you have time to decide what you want the greater world to look like while the players are exploring these hot spots.  Essentially it's a stalling technique that allows fun play now that can still be situated in your world to whatever degree of simulationism you desire later.


  1. That's not a bad idea. It'd work well for a G+ type game too.

  2. I like Michael Curtis's hangways for this:


  3. @Simon: If a DM had a few places prepared it would be an in-game way for the players to decide what kind of place they want to explore.

    @Pat: Thanks, I'd forgotten about those. I think the one difference is that, like a lot of magical gates in literature, it's blind travel. I like the idea of giving players intriguing choices. Having them squint at the diorama and trying to figure out as much as they can before deciding etc.

  4. Nice - I very much like that you give them some limited info about what's on the other side of the gate. In your game you started them on an island, which gave an extra boost to this mode of travel, right? Otherwise I can see this adding a layer of complication rather than deferring your world-building, if overland travel is easy and attractive around all the gate locations, not only the PCs' current location.

  5. This isn't too different from having portals leading to various alternate worlds, demiplanes, etc. Gygax had some in his Greyhawk Castle that led to a Greek-styled realm, an island with a very big ape, etc.

    I like to have some general background, as you've mentioned, on standby. If the players add or change anything, it's adapted into it. Nothing is ever written in stone; more like, a whiteboard.

  6. I'm desultorily working on a Planescape sandbox with a similar principle, except that it's intended as the entire game rather than as a stalling tactic. The central urban sandbox can only be gotten in or out of by portal, and the players can discover various portals to prepped locations by adventuring there. Then they can explore outwards from those locations or return back through the portal.

  7. Another option would be to use Dawn of Worlds. (http://www.clanwebsite.org/games/games.html)

    It doesn't address the issue in exactly the same way, so there are pros and cons to both solutions. The method in your post keeps the setting mysterious for the players, so that they get to discover it, and lets you retain creative control over the way the world develops, while with Dawn of Worlds, you get the perks of having the players create a world for you, being sure that the players are at least content with the world because they are the ones who created it, and not having to try to explain the setting to players who tend not to care.

  8. Thanks for the comments.

    @Grendelwulf: Definitely, this can be a means to add in adventure spice that doesn't really fit with your conception of your campaign.

    @John: I love planar gates, for an explorer it means anything is possible on the other side.

    @Staples: Thyanks for that link, I'm sure I saw that before but forgot completly. I'll have to sit down and try it to see how it works, how much time and investment required of players. I think ultimately, a DM should have a better idea of what makes a game world work well (density of locations, variety of terrain, travel times) but what the heck, if it's fast it could work. And it helps me as I'm scrambling around trying to learn those DM things.

  9. The pylons sound like they might have come from a "lost land" ;-)

  10. Absolutely. Those weather-changing, weird-crystal-holding things made a big impression on me.